My Pop wrote his Masters thesis on the subject of motivation. It is his assertion that most of what we consider motivation is more accurately defined as stimulation. He used the example of a dog lying in a doorway that we want to get through. We can offer the dog a biscuit : positive stimulation, or we can kick the dog: negative stimulation, but either way, the dog is not motivated… we are. During the hours of conversation I enjoyed with my Pop throughout this years’ Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Virginia, I asked him about this.
“Did you ever determine what motivation is?”
I had to laugh a little bit to myself, because I felt like it explained a lot. I’ve always been able to pretty clearly define who I wasn’t. I’m not a jock (which as a Detroit Lions fan, is probably a blessing in disguise). I’m not particularly smart, although I can do a little bit of a whole lot of things. I’m not extraordinarily good looking, thankfully, I married my girlfriend early in life, so that’s not been a big handicap. I’m not sure if it’s primarily a facet of Western culture, but I think a lot of people find themselves in exactly the same boat. People who identify themselves as “Christians” have it even worse, because attempts to figure it out are often met with accusations of “self realization” and “navel gazing.”
Due in large part to my tendency toward sarcasm, combined with some really crummy things I’ve walked through in the past few years, one of my Pop’s gravest concerns for me was that I would fall into the dark realm of the cynic. It’s not a pretty place to be.
cyn·ic – noun
1. a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.
A quick search of the classic definition made it clear to me that I am also not a cynic. Oh sure, I think people are by and large more selfish than not, but I think that’s simply human nature. Call it self preservation, if you will. But I’ve seen way too many good things happen to even go there.
As we continued to talk, my Pop was relieved to hear that in fact, I was not a cynic.
“Maybe I’m more of a skeptic?”
skep·tic - noun
1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.
2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.
3. a person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it.
Sometimes, not really, and even as a P.K., having watched so many of my fellow P.K.s adopt this very attitude, nope. While it’s certainly true that I accept less and less at face value every day, I don’t think I’m a doubter for the sake of doubting. I’m more sure of the core of what I believe then ever before, it’s just that the grey area seems to have gotten much more expansive.
So what’s left? I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t more closely identify with those crazy people who’ve always wondered what was out there on the edges of the map… you know, the spaces where the monsters are drawn. I’m like a person who climbs to the top of a mountain and sees a beautiful valley below. Then kind of place that most would consider the prize for such an arduous journey. But then, off in the mists of the distant horizon, there lies another mountain, and I just can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side.
I currently find myself in such a valley, complete with warm sunny days, an amazing Ocean view, surrounded by deeper and more meaningful relationships than I’ve had in far longer than I care to admit… but there’s a tug in my soul… the blessed curse of the explorer.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets